“Moms don’t have time to read books,” Zibby Owens jokingly told her partner when he suggested she turn some of her essays into a book. But that phrase soon became the name of her buzzy podcast and, later, a publishing empire. The mother of four — whom New York Magazine has called “the Oprah of books” — has also recently opened a bookstore in Los Angeles.
“The night before we visited the empty storefront, two team members and I were having drinks and discussing what books we’d carry,” Zibby told us. “We got a big piece of paper to draw out a whole map of different categories. We were like, ‘Let’s make it fun!’ and ‘Let’s make a shelf of book recs for anxious people!’ We were cracking ourselves up, but those shelves we dreamed up are actually in the store today.”
Zibby is a voracious reader and generous recommender, so we asked for some suggestions. (And we’d love to ask other people, in the future!) Here, Zibby shares her favorite memoir and what to try if you’ve been in a reading slump…
What’s a recent read that’s kept you up late?
How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told by Harrison Scott Key
I spent an entire weekend clutching this book to my chest. I even read it in the car. Harrison is absolutely hilarious but also introspective, repentant and clear-eyed about why his wife cheated on him and how they tried to reconcile, repeatedly. I laughed out loud while rethinking all my past relationships. I will read anything he writes from now on.
What’s a book that’s helped you through a hard time?
Black Widow by Leslie Gray Streeter
When my mother-in-law was hospitalized with Covid for six weeks and ultimately died, I was trying so hard to be there for my husband. I was dealing with the limitations of the pandemic, the fear, and of course my husband’s reaction to this out-of-control horrific situation. I read Leslie Gray Streeter’s Black Widow as this was all happening. Even though I’m not a widow, I could relate to how she found the absurd humor in some of the worst moments of grief. It helped me feel less alone during a uniquely terrible time.
What’s a truly epic novel?
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Yes! Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half about light-skinned Black twin sisters who grow up to live in two very different worlds — one white, one Black. I could not get off the couch reading this book and read it past sunset. My husband had to turn on the lights.
Do you have a favorite romantic story?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
I adored this book — the unlikely love story, the families, the journey to admitting true feelings, the funny characters (the boyfriend!), the feeling of not knowing exactly what to do. The movie was fine, but the book was spectacular. I cried my eyes out. When I interviewed Jojo on my podcast, we ended up having a completely unexpected conversation and she gave the best life advice.
What about a book that stayed with you long after finishing it?
A Place For Us by Brandon J. Wolf
I cannot stop thinking about the memoir A Place for Us. Brandon was at the mass shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, and he lost two close friends. His also follows his search for identity after his Black mother passed away when he was a child, leaving him with his white step-father and half-siblings as a queer, mixed-race boy. It was sensational; I have the utmost respect for Brandon. Mark my words: Brandon J. Wolf will be running this country one day!
What’s a good book to pick up if you’re in a reading funk?
The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop
The Girls of Summer is an escapist thrill, a coming-of-age story meets midlife malaise, in Greece! Who knew that was the perfect combination?! With two timelines in one woman’s life — her teenage summer of love and intrigue in Greece with a much older man who has suspicious friends, and then later as an older woman in a humdrum marriage — the reader is catapulted back and forth between the Greek islands and London, between passion and feeling stuck. My favorite part — aside from the plot, which unfolds in a delicious, heart-pounding way — are the quieter lines about the lives not lived. There’s a soulfulness to the whole story.
Who’s a writer that really makes you laugh?
Hope by Andrew Ridker
Andrew Ridker’s novel Hope had me laughing out loud in recognition of some of the characters in this dark comedy. It follows the exceptional Greenspan family in Brookline, Massachusetts, and what happens when the cardiologist dad is forced out of his profession after falsifying blood samples. A perfect read.
What’s a recent read that’s surprised you?
The House Of Eve by Sadequa Johnson
Sadequa Johnson’s novel The House of Eve, set in the 1950s, surprised me with its depiction of a relationship between a Black teenage girl and her Jewish teenage neighbor and the reverberating effects of their flirtations. It’s a dynamic I haven’t read about a lot, and I loved the book.
Finally, authors I follow on social media often say that pre-orders are the best way to support new books. As a reader, it’s also really fun because I’ll pre-order something I’m excited about, totally forget, and then several weeks later a book shows up like a surprise from a previous me who knew I’d like it. Can you recommend a forthcoming book we can pre-order?
Hell If We Don’t Change Our Ways by Brittany Means
We’re publishing Brittany Means’s first book, and I could not be more proud. Brittany has overcome so much to write one of the best books I’ve ever read. Kiese Laymon, Jeannette Walls, and Ashley C. Ford have already raved and raved about it. She’s a debut author to watch and one who will break out in a huge way this October.
Thanks so much for sharing, Zibby!
What books have you been recommending lately? We’d love to hear them in the comments.
P.S. Two gripping memoirs and the perfect evening activity.
(Opening photo by Katie + Joe/Stocksy. Book covers via their respective publishers. Photograph of Zibby via Zibby Owens.)
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